|Iran, Turkey, and America:
Will it be a new 'Power Triangle'?
1) Stephen Kinzer, author of the RESET 2) Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Reza Shah - Photo credits: Lightmillennium.Org
"Ataturk is little known in the United States, and Reza Shah is completely unknown.
Yet these were titanic figures whose careers reshaped Turkey and Iran forever."
An Exclusive Interview with Stephen KINZER
Stephen Kinzer’s new book RESET: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future
illustrates and sets out Iran, Turkey, and America within a new "power triangle" context.
Former New York Times correspondent in Turkey, internationally renowned author, and professor at the Boston University, Stephen Kinzer portraits Iran and Turkey within the context of their relationships with the U.S. from a very challenging angle, illustrating how these countries could potentially be good partners with the United States in the Middle East. Through RESET, Kinzer primarily escalates Iran and Turkey’s place, role, and importance in the Middle East as well as offering the U.S. policy makers to make changes in dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue along with Saudi Arabia. The author mainly proposes the U.S. policy makers to change their foreign policy, advising them not to deal solely with the elite, but also to include the majority of people in each and every country, allowing the U.S. become a “peacemaker” rather than a “war-doer.” Furthermore, Kinzer implies that seeking “democratic and cultural values” in Iran and Turkey had begun in both countries during the early 20th Century with several interruptions in both countries. Kinzer portraits Iran and Turkey through two prominent world leaders, Reza Shah Pahlavi and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, along with a parade of leaders, revolutionaries, princesses, and ambassadors, and he connects them to the present time. Throughout the book, Kinzer provides a new vision and hope for sustainable peace in the Middle East.
As the Light Millennium, we would like to thank Stephen Kinzer for this opportunity and congratulate him for his new book RESET and his vision via this book. We also would like to thank Maggie Sivon (Publicist/Henry Holt Company) for her support in realization of this interview for the Light Millennium. - May 28, 2010
- Media Release: About the RESET and two public programs with Stephen Kinzer on June 10 in NYC and June 15 in DC, and
profile of the author
Light Millennium (LM): You dedicated your new (upcoming) book RESET: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future to your grandparents, who had both departed the same year in Belsen in 1945. Thus, I wonder if your grandparents were victims of the Hitler's Nazi Regime. If so, would you share their story with us?
Stephen Kinzer (SK): My grandfather, Abraham Ricardo, was an anti-Nazi newspaper editor and columnist in Holland. During the Nazi occupation, he and his wife were arrested for sheltering a Jewish couple in their home. They were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and died there. Their four daughters survived. The eldest made her way to the United States after the war, married an American, and became my mother.
"...it is essential to understand the century of struggle for democracy that has shaped the last century of those counties' histories."
LM: In your earlier books in relation to Turkey and Iran, Crescent & Star, Turkey between Two Worlds, and All the Shah’s Men, you have mainly covered issues from near historical perspectives, which is a similar approach evident in RESET. What made you choose history and international politics in the early stages of your education and profession?
SK: During my years as a foreign correspondent, I would often ask myself when arriving in a country, “How did this country get this way? Why is it prosperous and stable, or poor and unhappy?” These questions led me to the study of history. That study, in turn, helped me realize how essential it is to understand the background of other peoples and nations if we wish to understand why they act as they do. In order to suggest that Iran and Turkey are countries that could be good long-term partners for the United States, for example, it is essential to understand the century of struggle for democracy that has shaped the last century of those counties' histories.
LM: What inspired you to tell a parallel story about Reza Pahlavi and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and what has changed during the process?
SK: Ataturk is little known in the United States, and Reza Shah is completely unknown. Yet these were titanic figures whose careers reshaped Turkey and Iran forever. They were dictators, but also visionary reformers. They wanted to pull their countries away from Muslim and Middle Eastern traditions. During the 1920s and 30s they promoted secularism, women's rights, and large-scale development projects. Without understanding their stories, it is impossible to understand how Turkey and Iran became so radically different from the Arab nations they once resembled.
"Ataturk wanted his people to love him, and they did; Reza wanted only to be feared, and was."
LM: What new things you found out about Reza Shah Pahlavi and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during your research for RESET in comparison with Crescent & Star and All the Shah’s Man, that surprised you (positively or negatively or both) and that you did not know before?
SK: These two radical reformers had much in common. They shared a vision of creating modern, secular, Europe-oriented societies in the Middle East. Yet in private they were very different. Ataturk was often spent long nights drinking and carousing with friends. Reza was austere and cold. Ataturk never cared for money, but Reza was fanatically devoted to amassing as much as he could. He used his power to become the largest landowner and one of the wealthiest men in Iran.
Ataturk wanted his people to love him, and they did; Reza wanted only to be feared, and was. Ataturk was sophisticated and worldly. Reza was barely literate and had no intellectual pretensions. Ataturk had no children, which may have been a blessing for Turkish democracy. Reza was fanatically devoted to the idea that his son must succeed him on the throne, an obsession that led Iran to tragedy.
LM a) When was your very first trip to Iran?
LM b) What was your very first coverage on Iran about?
SK: I made my first trip to Iran in 1997 as a reporter for the New York Times. My assignment was to cover the presidential election that resulted in the victory of the reformist candidate Mohammad Khatami. I had a chance to travel to various parts of the country. I was deeply impressed with Iran's historical sense of itself, and with its people's long and difficult struggle for democracy. That made me wonder why this great and ancient nation had fallen into such an unhappy situation. Searching for an answer to that question, I learned about the American-British coup of 1953 that ended democratic rule in Iran. Later I wrote “All the Shah's Men,” which tells the story of that coup.
LM c) What has mainly changed in your views on Iran since then, and in particular, after your recent trip to Iran that you led a group of people from the U.S.?
SK: It is remarkable how friendly Iranians are toward outsiders, and especially Americans. People shrieked with delight when they met us. This is the only country in the Middle East where most people are pro-American.
"It may be in the interest of some poor and unhappy countries to stir up trouble in the world, but America benefits most from stability."
LM: When it comes to “American Foreign Policy”, everything is based on the two following terms: the "American interest" & “security”. In most cases, these policies undermine the world security and the legitimate rights of other peoples of countries where the U.S. conducts business and has political interests. Based on these practices, do you consider that the “American interest” serves to the majority of the people in the U.S. and its foreign policy secures the interests of U.S. as a whole as much as of the world?
SK: The United States is the world's dominant power. It therefore benefits most when the world is stable, and suffers when violence, terror and other forms of upheaval spread. It may be in the interest of some poor and unhappy countries to stir up trouble in the world, but America benefits most from stability. It is in America's interest to promote peaceful solutions to world crises and to avoid exacerbating them or creating new crises. Too often the United States acts in the world in ways that bring short-term benefit but in the end foment instability. Every country acts in its own interest, and there is nothing wrong with the US doing that as well. The key is to think clearly about what truly is in our long-term interest, and not be tempted to lash out in ways that may be emotionally satisfying but that actually undermine American security.
LM: The deal between Saudi Arabia and the United States since Roosevelt worked out well for the U.S. and the Kingdom of the Saudi Arabia, but not for the people of the Saudi Arabia. Thus, what will replace it in terms of the concept of "American interest" in order to change the policy in Saudi Arabia, which will also cut weapon transfer to Saudi Arabia?
"Too often, the United States has encouraged repressive regimes in Arab countries..."
SK: The Arab world is the only region that has not been affected by the global trend toward democracy. Not long ago, few people would have imagined that democracy would come to Poland or Brazil or South Korea or Liberia. It has—but there is precious little democracy in the Arab world. Too often, the United States has encouraged repressive regimes in Arab countries because those regimes cooperate with American foreign policy, and because Americans fear that democracy in Arab countries would favor nationalist and religious parties suspicious of the United States.
The US should not work so actively to shape and influence Arab governments. The future of Saudi Arabia is, in the end, the responsibility of Saudis. Protecting the regime there in order to assure a rich market for American weaponry and easy access to oil is not a wise long-term policy if it conflicts with the desires of the Saudi people. Arabs have the same right to shape their destiny as people elsewhere. If it ever made sense for the US to try to limit the growth of democracy in Arab countries, that time is past.
LM: A few times in RESET, you talk about Iran’s nuclear policy and suggest a full transparency. In this context, do you consider that the U.S. and Israel, and other countries that obsess on nuclear weapons, are transparent? If they are not, is it fair to ask to be transparent on nuclear issue to Iran (and Korea) but not the rest? Furthermore, if the U.S. and Israel threat Iran, how will this nuclear policy be just and fair to all nations in the world regardless of their taking place in a Western or Eastern pact?
SK: The nuclear non-proliferation treaty requires transparency so that every country knows what other countries are doing with their nuclear programs. In this sense, the United States complies with the treaty. In a larger sense, though, the US and the other four original nuclear powers—Britain, France, China and Russia—have violated the treaty by failing to comply with their responsibility to cut their nuclear arsenals and work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Israel allows no transparency in its nuclear program, is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, and is therefore not bound by its rules.
These anomalies naturally make Iran feel that criticism of its nuclear program is unfair. Outside powers have no legal basis to demand that Iran halt its nuclear program, but they are justified when they insist that Iran comply with its treaty obligations.
"A world without nuclear weapons is an urgent goal..."
LM: President Obama has been pressuring solely on Iran on the "nuclear" issue, but not on Israel. He did not take any drastic measures to encourage all the countries "to scrap their nuclear weapons arsenals," based on the UN Security Council's approval on the U.S. sponsored resolution on September 24, 2009. Dominantly, the U.S. has based applied sanctions, pressures, and policies on Iran, and this also potentially encourages Israel to attack on Iran. Thus, how do you evaluate President Obama's term and his vision of "a world without nuclear weapons"? Is he honest in this vision or what is your comment on this? Or, how does this ongoing practices against to Iran by the U.S. will transform toward into your vision “power triangle"?
SK: A world without nuclear weapons is an urgent goal, and President Obama deserves praise for embracing it. Neither the US nor any other nuclear power, however, is taking substantial steps toward reaching that goal. This naturally leads people in some countries, including Iran, to believe that since the nuclear powers are not clearly fulfilling their obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, there is no reason why they should do so.
Sanctions on “rogue” nations carry with them grave consequences. They empower a new class of smugglers and other criminals who form a sanctions-busting counter-economy. Powerful people guilty of crimes rarely suffer from the effects of sanctions, and in fact often profit from them; the poor bear the brunt of sanctions. In the case of Iran, the worst aspect of sanctions may be that they are almost certain to fail—not to force the regime to change its policies—and this failure may be used as an excuse for military attack.
"The imperative now is to realize that with the Cold War over, the US needs to rethink its approach to the Middle East."
LM: You indicate that the U.S. Foreign Policy “may have made a sense” during the Cold War Era. As its outcome and in the favor of the “American interest”, many countries were left torn-apart and millions of people died as a result of the Cold War policies for several decades. For this reason, I am having trouble to understand how the Cold War Policies have made “any sense” for those millions of casualties, losses and sufferings, and natural and environmental damages as a result of it. Don’t you consider that the U.S. Foreign policy makers and practitioners of those policies have to apologize from those countries and peoples, and compensate them for the U.S. interest policies that supported the suppressive regimes and the U.S. itself has a direct responsibility for those outcomes?
SK: When the Cold War was at its peak, policymakers in Washington saw everything in the world through the lens of the East-West confrontation. Many Americans wrongly presumed that all efforts by poor countries to address social injustice and assert control over land and resources were part of a global strategy directed from Moscow. This led the US to become an enemy of movements in some countries that embraced democratic ideals, and ally itself with forces that ruled oppressively. In the intense climate of that age, it seemed to make sense for the US to excuse any action by a repressive regime as long as it was anti-communist. The imperative now is to realize that with the Cold War over, the US needs to rethink its approach to the Middle East.
LM: In some accounts, the U.S. foreign policy practices on Iran, and in general, on nuclear policy, are considered as the “post cold-war” era. What is your opinion on this?
SK: Iran has to some degree taken on the role of enemy that the Soviet Union played during the Cold War. In both cases, there was active debate in the US about whether compromise and caution should shape the relationship or whether confrontation was inevitable and even war was a possible option. Eventually, those who favored a long-term policy of containment of the Soviet Union were vindicated. The Soviet system weakened and ultimately collapsed under the weight of history. This argues for the possibility of taking a similar containment-oriented approach to Iran.
LM: While you have greatly credited the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government leading the Turkish economy and politics for the last 8 years, and reflected your trust in the Turkish government along with its expanded foreign policy and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, you’ve left all your hopes in Iran to the next election and to a new potentially more democratic government. Thus, does it mean that nothing can be implemented in Iran until the next election? Furthermore, how can you be sure that the next election won’t be in the line of Ahmedinejat’s ruling?
The political situation in Iran is not stable for the long term. Votes cast in the 2009 election were not counted in a transparent way, and many Iranians lost faith in the possibility of peaceful change. People hope the next election will be conducted more openly, but fear it will not. For the moment, though, Iran is calm and no new wave of protests is imminent.
1) Stephen Kinzer is at the Kaktus Cafe on Istiklal Avenue(left).
2) During the research process for RESET, the Author visited the Can Shop at the European Passage
(Aynali Pasaji) in Galatasary, Istanbul in August 2008(right).
Photo credits: Lightmillennium.Org
LM: Despite Turkey has been member of the NATO, and especially during the George W. Bush era, the Prime Minister of Turkey shared presidency for the U.S. led “Greater Middle Eastern Project”, and Turkey has been under extreme pressure by the U.S. Senate over the Armenian allegations since the Reagan Administration, which has opened a path against Turkey as a great threat by the U.S. in order to bring the Armenian Resolution into effect. In particular, within the Res. 252, Armenian Diaspora has changed its claim for the date and duration from 1915-1920 to 1915-1923, in which 1923 is the year the Republic of Turkey was founded. The Armenian Diaspora’s persistent attempts against Turkey through the U.S. House of Senate, I consider, also serve to an attempt to “put the Treaty of Sevres into practice.” And the U.S. Senate’s “vote” on March 4, 2010 officially ignores the legitimacy of the Republic of Turkey. On the other hand, you envision that Turkey may potentially be one of the key partners with the U.S. in the “power triangle” along with Iran in the Middle East. How do you think these two contradicting approaches will work hand-in-hand?
SK: Turkey is beginning to confront the tragedy of 1915 more fully than it has in the past. As these taboos weaken, the Turkish government is engaged in diplomatic efforts to resolve its problems with Armenia. If these twin processes continue, the historical narratives understood by Turks and Armenians may begin to converge. A full reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, including a frank recognition of the crimes of 1915, would be a decisive step the entire world would applaud.
"Turkey's sense of its own importance is rising, while America's relative power in the world is declining."
LM: In the RESET, a map shows the “Proposed Partition of Anatolia: Treaty of Sevres” (1920), which also clearly shows as the ultimate aim of it all the Turks being wiped out from the history. On the other hand, the U.S. plays multi-faceted acts, by supporting the Turkish-Armenian Protocols, and on the other hand, passing a vote in the U.S. Senate against Turkey, which I consider is a violation of all the legitimate and human rights of the Turkish Nation as well as the Turkish-Americans and the Turks around the world. How do you situate the U.S.’s multi-faceted policy towards Turkey that clearly is not honest and transparent? Also, with the ongoing U.S. foreign policy against Turkey, how do you see that your vision could be put into practice?
SK: Both Turkey and the United States face a changing security environment, which confronts them with both new threats and new opportunities. The days when Turkey followed US security policies almost automatically are over. The two countries have become “decoupled.” Turkey's sense of its own importance is rising, while America's relative power in the world is declining. These processes cause friction, and they have changed the US-Turkey relationship. Turkey still sees itself as acting on behalf of the West, but not everyone in Washington agrees.
LM: In your book, you indicate that the U.S. foreign policy had a dual practice during the Reagan Era. Thus, do you consider that it is now transparent and not dual or multi-faceted?
SK: Diplomacy is a subtle art that requires constant balancing of interlocking threats and opportunities. What is important is not that it be transparently made or carried out, but that it be based on cool calculation, not emotion. Both Turkey and the United States have sometimes made foreign policy decisions that make them feel good emotionally but in the end weaken their security.
"...a stable neighborhood is the best guarantee of Israel's long-term security, so achieving that security should be the main goal of Israel's friends."
LM: If the U.S. officially puts your vision into practice, accordingly, what do you think Israel and Saudi Arabia’s reactions might/will be?
SK: There is much stronger debate about what Israel is and should be within Israel than there is elsewhere. On my trip to Israel while conducting research for RESET, I found a considerable group of people open to the idea of a new approach to regional problems. They realize that a stable neighborhood is the best guarantee of Israel's long-term security, so achieving that security should be the main goal of Israel's friends.
Saudi Arabia is still in the process of deciding what kind of nation it wants to be. The United States should resist the temptation to try to guide its future; that only inflames extremist feeling. Instead it should loosen its ties to a country whose repressive society has almost nothing to do with ours, and whose long-term strategic goals are not compatible with outs either.
LM: Your title RESET is a very challenging one with the context of international politics, in particular, the ongoing U.S. foreign policy opposing to Iran and the Middle East. What are your short and long term expectations for materialization of your vision in Reset?
SK: I am offering a new way of looking at the Middle East and America's role in it. Some may find it insightful, while others might reject it. I do not insist that my logic is the only way out of our conundrum in the world's most volatile region. What I do hope to accomplish, though, is to push the debate over our options beyond old platitudes and paradigms. We are in a new century and we need new approaches to global crises.
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- Media Release: About the RESET and two public programs with Stephen Kinzer on June 10 in NYC and June 15 in DC, and profile of the author
- EVENTS of the Light Millennium
- For "PARADE of FACES: WHO SPEAKS FOR TURKEY?" with STEPHEN KINZER documentary project and more..
- For more information about Stephen Kinzer (external)
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©The Light Millennium/Lightmillennium.Org - May 28, 2010.